Podcast

The Importance of Asking Why in Digital Transformation Efforts: CTO Talk with Steve Wretling


Matt Ferrari

by Matt Ferrari
Chief Technology Officer
ClearDATA


I recently had the chance to sit down with Steve Wretling, the CTIO of HIMSS, in what I am glad to say was the first of many conversations to come. Steve is a brilliant technologist who really knows healthcare, and he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his role at HIMSS.

In this CTO Talk podcast, we dive into how our work in healthcare technology has us both looking at framing our healthcare conversations in a new light: Getting to the Why. If you’ve ever spent time with me, you know that the “Why” is a personal passion of mine, as this industry needs so much help across the board. My inspiration for getting to the Why stems from Simon Sinek who has done a great job with TedTalks helping business leaders understand the importance of this.

With the advances in technology in the last 20 years (ie mobile for everything) we’ve been caught up in the what and the how of the tech. Steve shares with us what he’s seen with mobile tech as he worked to build out the mobile technology strategy for Kaiser Permanente. His work developed and delivered Kaiser’s Mobile Center of Excellence as a cohesive experience for their customers, patients and members. One of his big takeaways from that experience was how interconnected the sets of processes were, and this drove him to start diving deeper into the “why” behind it all to get to a holistic view that proved to be very powerful in problem solving.

In this conversation we talk about moving past the ‘how’ that healthcare IT can obsess on, to ask why we are designing processes the way we are, why are things happening the way they are to patients. In an example Steve shares, he suggests that instead of looking at how many times Mrs. Jones makes her doctor appointments we should be looking at why Mrs. Jones misses appointments. Maybe it’s a social determinants of health issue – maybe she doesn’t have transportation and needs Uber or Lyft or other cloud-based apps she can utilize through her phone that can address the problem. Oftentimes, getting to the root cause, or “Why”, can lead to industry disruption.

He shares his view about the on-premise challenges healthcare has faced in the past, which led us to focus on commodities of storage and compute rather than really innovating new solutions with new cloud opportunities. We also talk about something I’m engaged with every day - the important role standards play in giving us deeper understanding of why things are happening the way they are. When we can standardize data and enable APIs, that lets us get to all of this medical and personal health data in more useable and accessible ways. This in turn gives us better insights into why things are happening the way they are so we can work to get in front of everything from chronic care to helping patients maintain wellness and live healthy lives.

Another point Steve drives home - which I advocate for daily in my conversations with healthcare tech companies - is empathy. Yes, two technologists are talking about the importance of empathy! When we ask why, sometimes several times in the same conversation, we get to meaning that helps us understand what a patient really needs and why things are happening the way they are. That’s when we can really transform the experience. The technology will help but asking the why will drive the change. As Steve says, “If you ask the why, you can start to connect the dots of how the entire care process works.”

We also talk about the huge shift in healthcare to move from hospitals-based care out to the patient home, which we can do with increasing success thanks to third party apps. This is a trend he’s seeing from a global perspective – a view of the world that comes with his position at HIMSS. The result in this shift toward home-based care can be improved mental and physical health for the patient and lower costs and better outcomes for the provider, but again it’s going to take empathy to understand what the patient and care giver needs, and what technology we can deliver to meet those needs.

I had a great time getting to visit with Steve, and I’m looking forward to many more conversations on the road to HIMSS20 next March as we get to the why in our conversations to enable digital transformation that truly improves healthcare. Give this episode of CTO Talk a listen here: